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Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

October 10, 2014

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day Poster

Because of the title, it would be very easy to take a cheap shot at Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and just use those words to describe the film.  But I’m not going to do that, because this new Disney movie is actually a lot better than those title adjectives might suggest.

To be sure, this is a kids comedy meant mainly to entertain the preteen demographic.  But as far as mindless family entertainment goes, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is not only watchable, but also surprisingly enjoyable.  The film opens this weekend.

Feeling like nobody understands the rotten luck he’s been having, eleven year old Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould) makes an early birthday wish that his family would know what it’s like to have a truly bad day, and soon that’s exactly what they experience.

His parents Ben (Steve Carell) and Kelly (Jennifer Garner) end up oversleeping.  His sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) wakes up sick, which threatens her role in the school play.  His brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) finds a giant zit on his forehead, before he’s supposed to bring his moody girlfriend (Bella Thorne) to the prom.  Then there’s baby Trevor, who somehow ends up eating a bright green permanent marker.  And that’s just the beginning of their bad luck, as things spiral out of control.

This big screen expansion of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day makes some changes from the classic 1972 picture book by Judith Viorst that I have fond memories of from my own childhood.  But the morals and themes of the original story have thankfully stayed intact, and if this helps keep the book as a bedtime favourite, then I’m okay with that.  This isn’t to say that all of the updated gags land with a laugh.  There are some groaners, and a few too many scenes of gross out humour.  But there are also things that I genuinely liked about the film.

Newcomer Ed Oxenbould has an easily likeable screen presence, reminiscent of young Peter Billingsley in A Christmas Story, even if the film itself doesn’t reach the level of that family classic.  Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner seem to be having fun taking a break from their respective serious work in markedly more mature films like Foxcatcher and Men, Women & Children, and they make a pair of amusing comic foils that keep things moving.  There is even a brief cameo from Dick Van Dyke, playing himself in a small role and getting maybe the funniest scene in the film.

Although much of the humour is geared at kids, there are several moments that made me smile and even chuckle.  It’s not likely to become a classic, but Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day provides harmless all ages entertainment, with fast paced direction from Miguel Arteta, and a sweet message over the obligatory happy ending.  It’s more like Alexander and the Watchable, Enjoyable, Pretty Good and Surprisingly Okay Day.

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